Is Censoring Craigslist the Right Way to Go?

Should Craigslist Be Held Responsible for the Listings Posted By Users?

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Update: The EFF has weighed in on the topic, talking about what the censoring means for free speech.

Craigslist has removed the censored box, and the adult section is just gone entirely.

Original Article: As you may have read by now, Craigslist has censored its "adult services" section. This appears to stem from a combination of pressure from numerous state attorneys general and negative media exposure. The issue at hand:  prostitution and human trafficking being solicited through the site. 

The situation brings to mind the conviction of Google execs over content uploaded to Google-owned YouTube, which led us to asking if social media sites should be held accountable for user actions.  Should Craigslist be held responsible? Comment here.

Craiglist opted to display a "censored" bar over the "adult services" category, caving to the pressure to remove it, while also making it obvious that its not really what they wanted to do. They could’ve simply removed it. Craigslist clearly feels attacked. Some have even suggested that the move was made to influence public opinion. 

Some are coming at the story raising questions about free speech, and while that is one issue, not even all supporters of online free speech find this to be the real issue at hand. Microsoft Research Senior Researcher Danah Boyd wrote a lengthy editorial on the subject for the Huffington Post in which she comes to Craigslist defense (as a service provider, not for censoring the section). Boyd, who claims to be a victim of abuse herself, makes the case that censoring Craigslist does more to add to the problem than to help solve it, saying that it helps the abusers. 

"The Internet has changed the dynamics of prostitution and trafficking, making it easier for prostitutes and traffickers to connect with clients without too many layers of intermediaries," she writes. "As a result, the Internet has become an intermediary, often without the knowledge of those internet service providers (ISPs) who are the conduits. This is what makes people believe that they should go after ISPs like Craigslist. Faulty logic suggests that if Craigslist is effectively a digital pimp who’s profiting off of online traffic, why shouldn’t it be prosecuted as such?"

"The problem with this logic is that it fails to account for three important differences," Boyd continues. "1) most ISPs have a fundamental business — if not moral — interest in helping protect people; 2) the visibility of illicit activities online makes it much easier to get at, and help, those who are being victimized; and 3) a one-stop-shop is more helpful for law enforcement than for criminals. In short, Craigslist is not a pimp, but a public perch from which law enforcement can watch without being seen."

Craigslist censors adult services section

Boyd elaborates on each of these points in the article. Despite the censoring, Craigslist appears to agree with Boyd.  

"The law is on craigslist’s side – websites are not liable for content posted by users under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But craigslist has given up anyway," says Adrianne Jeffries at ReadWriteWeb. "It’s not because its owners want to prevent sex trafficking – craigslist has maintained that it does more harm than good because law enforcement agencies can use it just as easily as pimps can."

There has been a lot of criticism about how the media has covered the story in general, with Craigslist itself probably being the harshest critic. CNN’s Amber Lyon recently interviewed Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, apparently catching him off guard on the subject. In a post at The Faster Times, Newmark says:

Amber approached me after an event where I had just spoken about stuff like getting real support for our troops and veterans — a cause I care about and support whenever I can. She said because “I’m the Craig in craigslist,” she expected me to have all the answers on the spot about anything to do with the company. Well, I don’t. Jim Buckmaster, our CEO, has been running craigslist for the last 10 years. I am a customer service rep, and I still love being connected to our users and trying to help people. But I have no role in managing the company’s operations because basically (a) I suck as a manager, and (b) while overall company direction matters to me as founder and a board director,  the deal was to hire good, trustworthy people and then get outta the way.
If Amber had done her homework, she would have known ambushing me with questions I am not qualified to answer, or even the right person to ask, would not get CNN’s viewers the accurate information they deserve.

Buckmaster also posted a letter to Lyon on the company blog, criticizing her approach. In this clip, Lyon says Craigslist isn’t living up to its promise of filtering ads, and offers a rebuttal to Craigslist accusations that  she "ambushed" Newmark (though doesn’t mention the part about him not running the company).  Since the Newmark interview, there has been no shortage of media coverage of Craigslist, though as Jeffries and Lyon both note, Craigslist itself is no longer talking. 

Craigslist had another blog post up recently criticizing the notion that alternatives to Craigslist are any better for preventing human trafficking. The post was a response to a Facebook Page based on that notion, indicating that eBay was such an alternative. The post goes on to discuss examples of ads that would contradict that notion.  In Boyd’s piece, she compared the whole thing to a game of whack-a-mole, suggesting that if you censor one site, the content will simply pop up on another one. 

Is censoring Craigslist the answer? Share your thoughts.

Is Censoring Craigslist the Right Way to Go?
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  • http://www.asian-dove.com Wes Roettger

    Censoring Craigslist. It is just more elected officials walking on the rights that we and all Amerricans have fought for over the years. You would think we are not a free country. Are we living in Red china or Russia. Why don’t they go after the bad people that are doing the bad deeds. I have a web site and I’m very proud of the fact that I don’t censor what people say or do. even when someone posts a photo I don’t like, at http://www.asian-dove.com people have rights and I will never step on there rights. If some people are doing wrong go after them. Is the next step to go after the man that reads the news if it is not good news.14
    Wes Roettger

  • Guest

    Censoring Craigslist was stupid because there are a million other site that are exactly the same only difference is traffic. Craigslist chose to crave where they could have fought it harder. It is called freedom of speech and all that. The only responsibility Craigslist has to consumers legally to safe guard as much as possible so that they are not knowingly negligent and to protect what security information they are privileged to. The adequately warned consumers when they entered that section. All email addresses are encrypted. Craigslist has fulfilled their legal obligation. If a consumer gives their personal info out and does safe guard themselves then it sucks but that is their own fault. People have been robbed, killed, etc from the more mainstream ad sections as well so should we censor that. Reality is people want someone to blame but Craigslist should to assume the blame by censoring it basically.

  • Guest

    This is a violation of everones privacy. We must stop actions like this before we loose all of our garaunteed rights as so many have already go by the wayside!

  • sam

    Craig’s list is just like any other similar site, or newspaper or any other advertising site , so why should craigs list be targeted. Yes, there should be a team monitoring all listings in that catagory to make sure there is no child porn or human trafficing going on.

  • Greg

    I am 100% against any kind of censorship. We do live in America don’t we, just checking… Maybe I went to sleep and when I woke I was in anther country.

    • King George

      It is not about censoring… it is about breaking the law. I sure hope when they gut your children that you don’t stand up and say, “Poor criminals, don’t censor them…”

      You are completely brain dead.

      • http://www.affiliatesdictionary.com ScienceLives

        I must have missed something, I didn’t realize that Craigslist had ads where people were offering to gut my children …

  • Roy

    Blaming Craigslist for the ads OTHER PEOPLE POST is nuts!

    But lets pursue this idiotic trend further (since Google execs are apparently responsible for what OTHER PEOPLE POST ON YOUTUBE)…

    Obviously the auto manufacturers are to blame for all automobile related crimes. Blame GM when a drunk driver hits someone with a Chevy. Toyota is obviously at fault when one of their cars is used in the commission of a criminal act. How could Ford not be to blame when an underage kid steals one and crashes it?

    While we’re at it let make sure Boeing & Airbus are responsible for the actions of terrorist hijackers & drunk unruly passengers. They must be by this crazy line of logic.

    Firearms makers are obviously responsible for every nut-ball that ever shot anyone. Knife makers… all at fault for every incident of “wrongful use” of a knife.

    Why does our legal system go guns-blazing after the providers of tools instead of concentrating on going after the tiny minority of problem individuals??

    OH!! Right! That’s where the money is… and what’s easiest.

    • Guest

      Thank you for being a logical, rational, thinking human! It’s so refreshing to know that there are some of us left! :D

  • AJ

    Hmmm…. What about all the dating sites. Are all the ads/postings/profiles looking for “legit” relationships? What about all the spam I recieve on my Yahoo Mail with “people wanting to meet me”, or “be my friend” or “look at my pics”. I guess Yahoo should be responsible for all those emails and ALL THE SPAM TOO (SPAM is against the law, isn’t it????)

  • Guest

    I don’t personally believe in Censorship, but we need some level or the foxes will have the run of the chicken house. I also think that prostitution is a service and to try to hide it is kind of silly. Those who supply and consume those services will just find another venue.

    The whole thing is a non issue. The average Craiglist user won’t be affected in any way if there’s no illicit ads, because they weren’t looking for that in the first place.

    It does however make a good news story.

  • Vince

    The above is bad enough and its a move against freedom of speech.

    Am I the only one to notice they took away adult gigs as well?

  • Garnet195

    I believe that because Craiglist is also a business, they should be monitoring what is posted on their sites.
    Not to know is what someone puts on their website is bad business.
    It also makes the information that the company puts on their site, it makes Craiglist look bad.

    I.E.. I posted an ad to sell my Cookie Lee jewelry What I received was stupid emails telling that they sympathized with me and I did not need to sell my jewelry.
    Goodness !
    I had posted it as my business. These people either did not get it or they were trying to make ME look stupid. I am not Stupid And without them my business is doing well.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment.

  • Guest

    The category has gotten to be a dump. One ad might have a tactful coded prose while another just vile unfiltered belch out of the lower mind. I say for now simply create a drop down menu of user chosen and creator edited terms. A drop down homogenized sentence carries no overly seductive prose or vulgarity. What is most likley being objected to is the poor tasteless quality of the ads themselves so a solution here is for CL to have premade ads for purchase with customized contact info. Pay more for ads with words that the dropdowns don’t offer.

    If that doesn’t work just put the “All Seeing HAL Eye” pic on the page….

  • Philippines Tourist

    I think PARENTS should be responsible for censoring what their children do online, and should insist they not have access to devices that could access “undesirable content”. Then, allow us Adults to decide for ourselves what website info we want.

    Look at Microsoft security as an example, no matter what they do, someone always has a crack or hack to the software. You keep making laws and someone will always find a way around them. If you don’t like porn, change the channel or visit another website. But why prevent ME from enjoying it should I desire to view it? Why?

    I don’t like wars and rumors of wars but am powerless to stop them. Spend your time stopping wars and leave Craigslist alone.

    • Guest

      The issue is the legality of the content. A part of that, aside from the hookers and selling humans, is child pornography.

      So, you want the freedom to view pics of little boys and girls being sodomized do you?

      Well, let me tell you very clearly; stopping pedophiles (like you?) is the greatest ‘war’ that a normal functioning, responsible adult could ever wage. So, CL and I suppose your personal computer should represent some very interesting battlegrounds.

  • Guest

    Just another example of what is going on in this country today. Free speech is gone, I wonder what will be next? The USA is going to hell fast, and it’s a dam shame.

    • Guest

      Selling photographs of little kids being raped is not free speech.

  • Guest

    They were making money from illegal activities which makes them digital pimps.

    All website owners are responsible for what they put online.

    If they were running ads selling heroin or other illegal substances there would not be such a fuss over this.

  • Godfrey

    If you were a politician you will all do the same censoring stuff

  • Guest

    Yes craigslist is responsible for what is being posted on their site as well as facebook, myspace and any other internet company is responsible for what there site is being used for. Craigslist adult site should be removed not just censored. If people want to find dates than craigslist should have a site where you interact with another person getting to know them and understand them before you go having sex with them. Like true.com or facebook dating. I think it is ludacris to have such access to such nudity and sexual content especially when the internet has a lot of children on it. This goes for every sexual and nudity site out there.

  • Vladilyich

    Under no circumstances should the site owner be held responsible for the actions of the posters. The individual actions of the posters are their own, not the responsibility of the site. These attorney generals’ actions are reprehensible and they should be removed from any position of “authority:.

    • Guest

      What you say equates to not putting a drug dealer behind bars because he just supplies opportunity. Unfortunately, it makes no sense. A business that knowingly provides a means for illegal activity is by definition an accomplice to the crime at best. And that is exactly what the CL executive is – a group of accomplices to the child porn trade.

      CL should be seized, and the executive should be charged. The only problem with the Attorney General is that they didn’t go far enough; rather, they relied on the moral code of a group of people who already thought it was alright to have a big giant hand in raping children.

      Site owners (publishers) should be 100% responsible for monitoring the content on their Websites. Simply because the means of distribution is electronic doesn’t preclude any moral or legal responsibility. Further, most sites purport to own content once submitted, and if you own it, you own it. You’re responsible for it. You can’t stamp your foot and say you own it when it’s alright, then say “no, no – I’m not responsible” when it’s about hiring hookers or selling babies.

  • John

    A person who owns an empty house where people illegally break in and use the house to do drugs is held responsible for what goes on in that house. I guess our war on drugs is conditioning us to accept such silliness. Craigslist does not charge for ads and in spite of allowing people to post free ads, Craigslist is supposed to pay the hundreds or thousands of people it would take to censor these ads. Just more silliness. More big brother BS.

  • http://lampwickke.wordpress.com lampwickke

    Most “empathetically”,This World thinks that there is a fine line. between that which is obscene and permissible in its eyes only.But I have to ask myself,what of ones Spirit;how does He perceive this question? God in His Infinite Wisdom, (and as a Christian today) clearly specifies; His is the ultimate answer.”For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”.
    Matthew 12:34b.

    The blatant is obvious in all we speak in our “Words” one to another. In simple terms,what you speak of “What is spoken of your heart’s abundance comes out of your mouth.” The neglect of Craigslist to monitor itself according to basic laws of decency; borders on an obscenity to intelligent minds and hearts.

    Not that you might have expected, this viewpoint from any Christian today;but even one who will defend their God to the extreme (There being exceptions)! Come now
    Craigslist ,do you really think that someone would not defend their faith? How naive, or stupid; do you take us all for? You didn’t expect to not be challenged by one of Gods Elect did you? To foster this idea,puts all Christians into a box. To lump even one segment of a society into a minority is a travesty.Is there any doubt as to there being a God in Heaven above.Awareness in any form of media is a given,if you haven’t noticed! But like Him, He is always the giver of “love,without a respecter of persons”.
    As such myself,please forgive me my humanity! Yes! there are those who will rise up in defense of their God!

    In His love,


    • http://www.indonesian-wife.com Guest

      Yes, all Christians should be put in a box…Brainwashed Sheep

  • http://www.sacrad-guardians.com/ Guest

    If it was censored it would reborn under another name. I think they should be held accountable for what is posted on their site.. what I mean is someone should check those postings now and then and decide if it can remain or not. Craig list should show some responsibility what’s happening on their site.. so how can they be not innocent?

  • Guest

    CraigsList.com made a name for itself early on for being completely vigilant and active against spammers and site spam.

    Yet now they are making a fuss when legitimate government representatives are looking for help in stopping child porn and vice online?

    Where are their values? It makes Craigslist look really bad from this perspective.

    Free speech is important and should be protected, but so are our children and families.

    There is a proper line somewhere. Albeit debatable, a line does exist and we all should be working hard to define it as best we can. To suggest that there is no line is foolish.

  • Disgusted

    Yes, I think Craigslist should Censor….NO, Actually I think they should Remove the Adult listings completely. When did prostitution become legal? We are all trying to make a living, but where do we draw the line? It’s easy to turn away from things that aren’t right, but as a society, we have to put our foot down.

    • Alebrije

      If society is so civil and righteous why do we have prostitution all over the country? it’s easy to say that’s wrong and do nothing. at least that section provides important data that can be use as evidence and information to help us have a better understanding of why this is happening in our great society. Prostitution has been part of history and the very beginning of this nation.

      • Guest

        You are arguing prostitution which is an entirely different issue. In the real world, Craigslist is nothing more than a pimp that sells advertising.

  • Cameralynns

    I agree with “Michael (WPN reader)…Best suggestion I’ve heard yet!!
    “Craigslist could partner with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to have volunteers peruse the listings and have the ability to “escalate” a listing to a Craigslist admin, who could then either forward on the information to law enforcement or simply remove offensive listings or those that violate the AUP.”

    If they did this, it would certainly discourage any listings made of this nature. The search should include any catagory that would be camouflage for such activities. Catch them in their own “net” so to speak. It is important that Craigs list discourage such listing/posts, to protect themselves from an entrapment clause when someone is caught.

    As far as the empty houses for rent or sale being used for drug trafficing, or being ransacked, that is the responsibility of the person who is posting. They should be keeping their eye on that property when they post. It is their responsibilty and Craigs list has no authority or responsibilty for the responses to ads or the negative results of such posts.

    I do feel it is the responsibilty of Craigs list to keep any illegal activity from being sold or promoted on their site, and actions should be made to stop or avoid such activity.

  • JoAnn

    Someone posted that Craigslist should not be held responsible for the actions of their posters. I agree. But where is their sense of responsibility for their own actions? By allowing these posts they are allowing easy access to the immorality and unlawfulness of these posters not only by adults, but by children who are still in need good moral guidance. Would you allow these people to come into your own store to conduct their business? Craigslist has allowed them into their own storefront to conduct their business, and it is the responsibility of Craigslist to stand up for what lawful and morally acceptable in their own storefront. The fact that they are not doing that says something about the true lack of responsibility and good moral judgment of Craigslist. Or perhaps, like many others in business, money speaks louder to them than their own sense of responsibility to neighbor.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

      “By allowing these posts they are allowing easy access to the immorality and unlawfulness of these posters not only by adults, but by children who are still in need good moral guidance.”

      First of all, where are the adult parents of these children in need of good moral guidance?

      Second, and to the point, it also give law enforcement a big bulls-eye to target the perps but did they take advantage of it?

      Why try to shut down what could be one’s most valuable tool? Because they don’t understand how to use it or, because it made them look bad because it shows how ineffective they are at fighting crime?

      “Oh no, Craigslist is showing John Q how much crime there is out there that we can do little about, what should be do, do our jobs better or, make Craigslist not make us look like keystone cops anymore?”

      Guess which one they chose and was there any surprise?

  • http://www.armandaudrey.com Armand Audrey

    It’s typical that the Government would demand this. Censoring Craigslist is irresponsible at best. People should not be protected from themselves when they refuse to use common sense.

    If meeting someone off of the Internet:

    1. Bring a gun or other weapon. Forget about the law, just do it.
    2. DON’T go anywhere private.
    3. Don’t leave your drink anywhere.
    4. Know how to defend yourself.

    It’s not Craigslist’s responsibility to watch after people, and frankly, I’m disappointed that they caved and did what the Government told them to.

  • Amy

    CL has done everything in its power to make sure these sex services do not touch anyone else in the community, including only letting you have one I.D. per IP addy, and making most of the forums they spammed the most private. They gave them their own section, where they are not bothering anybody that doesn’t want to be bothered.

    The only thing they can’t seem to stop is these people getting your email addy, and that’s sort of impossible, because you can only have one, and if you answer ANY ad on CL, they can get it.

    If you don’t want to be harrassed by them, stay out of the personals. Believe me, there are nothing but losers there anyway.

  • Guest

    I am becoming increasingly bemused by the public at large believing they have a right to sensor what adults do and don’t do on craigslist and other such sites.

    Craigslist have a seperate clearly cautioned section for this material and in my opinion, if folk want to enter they do so with the knowledge that they will get what they get.

    I do not condone sensoring in any format for a website which requires an informed deliberate click on a known category. I do not however say the same about pop-up sites that lure viewers in tactically.

    In this free world we live in, we have a right to access, or not, any material we choose as consenting adults. Do not allow the fanatical minority to intrude upon this right.

    Would somebody kindly tell me when we became a dictator state?

  • http://www.escortwebsites.biz Escort Websites

    Twitter is the new Craigslist for escorts. Get over it.

  • Craigslist User

    On many occasions, I’ve flagged and sent emails to Craigslist about people who were doing things intentionally to deceive people. Their response, NOTHING! I say, let them get what is coming to them. They don’t care about making important decisions to keep things honest online, now comes payback. Arrogance always come before a fall. They occur to me to be a very arrogant company who shows NO responsibility for their actions. Maybe the fall of Craigslist will be the rise of the fallen NEWSPAPER. At least with newsprint, we have the names and address of the people doing the crimes. Newspapers feel a sense of liability to what appears in the paper. The rest of us have to worry about what is on our websites. They should have to worry about the same things. THEY OWN THE SITE. FREEDOM OF SPEECH is about buying your own domain name and getting your message out there with a sense of responsibility. Anyone of us can buy a domain and do what they are doing, but we all fear being SUED! Why should they get away with it? Who are they to live above the laws of this great land.

  • http://www.matweller.com Mat Weller

    Why is it that in every other form of media, the author is responsible for what they publish, but online it’s considered the media’s responsibility? Of course Craigslist shouldn’t be legally bound to censor. To punish for that would be like fining state governments for things written on the walls of highway rest stops.

    They can CHOOSE to sensor if they want. That’s not a first ammendment issue that’s their right as the owner of the space.

    I hope you don’t think you can tell me what content I can put on my site, I’m getting pains just thinking about all of that laughter. However, I rent the space from GoDaddy, and if they decided they didn’t want my content on their server I would take my business elsewhere without thinking twice, because that’s their right.

    These days folks have some blurry ideas about ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ and ‘legalities’ and what constitutes each. Don’t be naive. If you don’t know how to use the equipment, maybe you shouldn’t be on the playground. If you don’t like the sliding board, don’t use it.

    • Guest

      You have such valid points about choosing content. The problem is that CL is a conduit for some incredibly heinous crimes. It’s content is illegal (and despicable). And, yes – if the local newspaper was publishing copy that saw children sold into the sex trade, the newspaper would be stopped from publishing that copy. They’d most likely be shut down entirely.

      This isn’t reporting; this isn’t news. This is people profiting from illegal activity that it is fully, 100% aware of. Essentially, it makes CL an accomplice to these crimes. Referring to your metaphor, CL was the creepy dealer at the playground with the Econoline parked on the curb, and they got kicked out of the neighbourhood.

      I see one big difference between mainstream media and CL, though. In the mainstream, there are many publishers who would NOT knowingly allow this sort of content. In fact, most publishers and journalists I know would work with law enforcement. If I found out from law enforcement that content on one of my sites was of this nature, I’d hand over IPs and close the site down. The end. On CL it was a joke, and the censored block just proved that. Poor CL, I feel so badly for them. Their posts about selling babies and women and little boys and girls illegally aren’t allowed anymore. You know, try as I might, I don’t quite feel as badly for CL as I do for the children who are raped everyday because CL knowingly helped to make it happen.

      Being stopped from being a front for illegal activity is not censorship. The sorriest part of all this is that adults, the business people at CL had to be told to stop.

  • http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com ron

    There is no point in censorship people would just stop using it and go elsewhere. simple…
    better to leave as is & law enforcement agencies can watch, otherwise it will go underground.
    softly softly catchee monkey.

  • King George

    Craig’s List could care less about scams or safety, they prove that on a regular basis. I vote for anything that puts Craig out of business. I saw an interview with him on CNN… he has about one ounce for brain and looks like he probably uses the prostitutes himself.

  • http://www.laokay.com Adsense Publisher

    It was a good idea until people started using it to murder others.

    It was a decision of the company to remove a section so that it would not be affiliated with such behavior of it’s members, not a censorship of free speech.

  • Guest

    If the state’s AG spent more time learning about and using computers and maybe even, gasp, the Internet instead of having his sexetary sitting on his lap taking dictation, he might realize that his entire casebook could be maintained as simply as opening up Craigslist to the adult services section.

    Talk about shooting one’s self in the foot! D’Oh!

    Oh, maybe it was considered, in California, to violate criminals’ privacy by making it too easy to track them down?

  • http://africatopforum.com africatopforum

    No that isn’t the way to go, as nobody likes to be monitored.

  • http://inoutside.biz Imelda O. Suzara

    Craigslist is another media accessible to the public and should do its duty in stopping illegal activities online although the individual poster should be culpable and warned to stop their postings. All social media should have their membership terms warning members about crimes, and use keywords with warnings to automatically flag postings that contain them. Social media such as Youtube, Facebook, Craigslist, etc. are like any other media tv, newsprint, radio, and should help law enforcers stop crime and not to perpetrate it.

  • Guest

    what about sites like adcoast.com its the same thing exactly!

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